It is one thing to criticise the ways that the railways have been sold off, which Andrew Murray rightly identifies as a scandal (Another Voice, 25 May). However, he seems to offer no suggestion as to what a Labour government might do. “Renationalisation of the railways” was a popular policy at the 2017 general election but what, precisely, does it mean?
Network Rail, which owns the track and stations, is already in public hands and no government is going to spend several billion on buying back the rolling stock from the private companies that lease it out. That leaves the train operators who run the services, but any sensible government will wait until the contracts run out, which will take years.
This is possibly why in his column Murray dodged the issue. The sad reality is that renationalisation, which I wholly support, is a long-term aspiration that will bring about some important benefits, but the difficulty of implementing it quickly means it will have little short-term impact.
John Gray (“Age of the strongman”, 25 May) claims that “anti-Semitism is an integral part of a new style of politics promoted by the leader of the Labour Party”. This is an oft-made insult that has to be continuously challenged. Corbyn is not even anti-Zionist, per se: no leader of the left would ever oppose a nation’s defence of its historic homeland. What the left opposes is the assumed right by Jews to enforce their exclusive rights to territory occupied for hundreds of years by Palestinians also.
Corbyn may be a populist but only because the post-Cold War “liberals” continue, as Gray has it, “to believe their hegemony was a reflection of their superior rationality” – a “superior rationality” that appears to accept widening economic and social inequalities as inevitable consequences of globalisation! Some rationality! Some liberalism! Corbyn’s populism (or should it be “alt-liberalism”) is by many
degrees a superior brand of liberalism than that.
Alt-liberalism, Gray tells us, is a mutant version of liberalism that repudiates the Western civilisation that gave birth to the liberal way of life. If such a way of life allows widening inequality, Western civilisation has no claim as the harbinger of a liberalism worthy of the name. If authoritarianism is not an acceptable alternative, neither is a return to our historic system of quinquennial voting for various brands of oligarchical government.
There is little to argue with in John Gray’s forensic examination of the rise of populism. I take issue only with the idea that democrats have failed because autocrats are smarter. Brexit and Trump didn’t come from nowhere, they were the direct result of more than three decades of concerted attacks by unelected wealthy elites on the core values of liberal democracy – rigorous and fair taxation, impartial journalism, corporate accountability, human rights, the internationalist approach
of the EU and more.
While nobody in Britain or America ever voted for Rupert Murdoch, the erosion of so much of what we believe in has been down to his influence.
John Gray riffs on the intellectual bankruptcy of liberalism and the terminal decline of the Enlightenment world view. Admittedly, there are few things more harmful than optimism detached from reality (one thinks of the Iraq War and other liberal misadventures) but the same is true of dogged counsels of despair.
Ironically, Gray seems to have succumbed to a phenomenon he might dub “liberal” or “modern”: the belief in a clear separation between observation and effect. Might it be that repeatedly portending the collapse of liberal society could actually hasten that outcome?
John Gray is absolutely right that the alt-liberal view that the majority’s support for stricter immigration controls is racist is the main reason there is no effective opposition to the rise of right-wing populism in the US and Europe. The key blind spot of the progressives’ view of migration is their invariable focus on the desires of those on the move, rather than the feelings of the majority in recipient countries.
Yet it is the latter that is shaping the rise of populism. Indeed, the inevitable and rapid population increases in neighbouring regions such as Africa, the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean will ensure that stricter border controls will be a constant political imperative for Europe and the US. Such trends need not be a gift to right-wing populists. There is a migration policy for recipient countries that is democratic, progressive and internationalist.
East Twickenham, London
Leeds leads way
Martin Fletcher’s article (“The mission to stop Brexit”, 1 June) is yet another example of the curious view that politics begins and ends in the metropolis. Those of us campaigning against Brexit in the frozen north of Leeds will find it completely baffling. Here the “Leeds for Europe” group unites all the various campaigning groups in a single channel of activism. It has a stand in Leeds city centre, organises public meetings, briefs members on lobbying MPs and peers, sends hundreds of supporters to other demonstrations and organised the 7,000-strong march across the city at the end of March.
In any case, given that the current situation nationally is all over the place, it is hardly surprising that the anti-Brexit groups do not yet have a single uniting theme for their campaigning. There is a further explanation for the diverse London situation and that is the reality of parliamentary politics. It is a political impossible for Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan and Dominic Grieve to stand out completely from their Conservative colleagues. I refrain from commenting on the Labour Party’s curious position. Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn should have a formal deduction from the £39,000 extra salary he receives as leader of the opposition for singularly failing to oppose.
Not in my gang
Andrew Hussey (The Critics, 1 June) asserts that Jean-Paul Sartre defended “the Baader-Meinhof gang, effectively making propaganda for murderers”. That’s not how Andreas Baader saw it. When Sartre visited him in jail, to protest at the conditions of his imprisonment, but making clear his opposition to terrorist methods, Baader complained: “I thought I was dealing with a friend, but they sent me a judge…”
Stephen Bush seems to confuse parties and movements (Politics, 1 June). The Co-operative Party remains distinct from the Labour Party. Perhaps the name Fulham Co-operative committee was a clue. The co-operative movement still includes workers’ and other co-ops. The shops labelled Co-op offer loyalty benefits
I’m all for the Northern Powerhouse but to say that “a handful of the world’s leading universities” would be included in an extended Northern Powerhouse, even one stretching from the original Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds to Newcastle (Observations, 1 June) is pushing it.
I suspect the only university in that area that has been included in the top 100 of any of the various world university listings is Manchester and, as far as I can remember, it’s never been in the top 20 and rarely been in the top 50. In other words I take objection to both “a handful” and “leading”. One, maybe; reputable, maybe; but leading, no.
I was intrigued by Peter Wilby quoting Leslie Fiedler’s well-aimed criticism of Saul Bellow for undervaluing female characters (First Thoughts, 1 June). In Fiedler’s seminal book on the Great American Novel there is no mention of one obvious claimant to being the author of one – Edith Wharton. For me, The House of Mirth or The Age of Innocence are more deserving of this title than any of the works of Roth, Updike, Bellow or Mailer. Still, well done Peter for nominating Middlemarch as the Great British Novel.
Peter Wilby makes a good point about geography being the “poshest subject”, but I suspect that rather than being because it addresses the concerns of the global elite at Davos, the reason is much more prosaic. These days A-level field trips, even from state schools, are to locations like Morocco. With drastically reduced budgets parents are expected to stump up, or the child doesn’t get to go. Gone are the days when a long weekend in a youth hostel on the Dorset coast was considered appropriate. The effect on who takes up the subject at school or applies to study it at university are obvious.
(BA Oxon Geography 1976)
Perhaps “involuntary celibacy” is not “a genuine problem” as Helen Lewis asserts (Correspondence, 1 June) but, surely, that epidemic of modern times, involuntary solitude, estimated to be responsible for as many premature deaths as smoking and alcohol, qualifies. The lonely are not necessarily celibate, of course, nor are the involuntary celibate necessarily lonely, but to deny the authenticity of this problem is crass to say the least.
Nicola Sturgeon should apologise for the 2013 Independence White Paper. It’s now clear the SNP hyped this mammoth campaign leaflet – written, scandalously, by civil servants – to puff a core 28 per cent support up to 45 per cent by conning thousands of voters and giving others someone to blame for their grievances other than themselves. If it had been as honest as Andrew Wilson’s Growth Commission, the “Yes” vote would have been well below 40 per cent and “game over” for a generation. Voters would have concluded that the cost, complexity, timescale and risk wasn’t worth it.
Instead we have continued division, arguments for a re-run, an out of steam minority SNP government, a very “B” team of MPs, a failing economy and public services dragging Scotland down.
Perhaps, more than an apology, we need a truth and reconciliation commission so people can speak out about what really went on when statistics and reports were “edited”, journalists browbeaten and previously well run police, school, and health organisations hollowed out. We might even find
some people up in court.
And then Somme
A quick reply to Nicholas Lezard who asked if one could match his love of the English countryside (Down and Out, 25 May). Yes, in Picardy! The valley of the Somme in springtime is all you need. This is where roses and peonies are at their most exquisite right now.
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This article appears in the 06 Jun 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Nuclear Family